Although dealt a disadvantaged hand at birth, six-year-old Ismail Zulfic from Sarajevo, Bosnia turned everything around to become a champion swimmer. Born without arms and a deformed foot, he had little hope for success. In his community, people with such disabilities are often marginalized and not given hope for a future of opportunity. But Ismail’s parents found an inspirational sports instructor and together began showing Ismail that he could be just as important and talented as any other child. He might have to work harder, but the rewards would be worth it. Now he has become a swimming champion. Learn more about this miraculous story below!
Because he worked hard and overcame his physical limitations – and his fear of the water – Ismail went on to win a gold medal at the regional swimming competition. And now the talented young swimmer has won the hearts of many people in the Balkans.
If it wasn’t for Amel Kapo, a sports graduate, Ismail would never had had the opportunity to find his best self in the pool. Kapo launched a free swimming class for children with disabilities. He did it at a Sarajevo pool without getting any government support for his charitable enterprise. He had to do it all by himself and now he has a gold medalist in his organization.
“My goal was to bring children with disabilities into the open,” Kapo said. “Yes, their bodies might be different but if you give them an opportunity to prove themselves they know how to take it and use it.”
Kapo’s club is called Spid. It is the only swimming club for children with disabilities in the entire country.
Ismail’s parents struggled to afford the 44-mile drive from their home to the pool twice per week. But once they saw how much their son loved it, they knew they had to find a way.
Plus, Spid covers some of the cost of fuel as well as some swimming gear, making it easier for the parents.
Kapo’s club impressed the Swim Strong Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit founded by Shawn Slevin. Slevin traveled to Spid to help coach 50 disabled children over the past year.
“When (disabled children) can see that they can do as anyone else can do, it lifts their confidence level (and) then there is nothing they cannot do,” Slevin said.
About 6.5 percent of Bosnian children from two to nine years old have some kind of disability. But the country is not disabled-friendly. Basic accommodations like wheelchair ramps and support bars are not common throughout the country.
Ismail begins his formal education this fall. And when he begins going to school, he will face many challenges. His classrooms will not be accessible and the teachers won’t be accommodating to him.
But while Ismail may only be six years old, he knows that he has what it takes to beat the odds. He was born without arms but he still became a gold medalist in swimming.
Knowing that he is unstoppable, Ismail says it feels “really nice.”
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